There is a special set of laws governing wills and estates, known as the Uniform Probate Code. This set of laws was drafted by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws (NCCUSL). This organization governs inheritance and estate law in the United States. The Uniform Probate Code was created in an effort to simplify the process of probating estates and to standardize laws regarding wills, trusts and intestacy. However, the Uniform Probate Code covers more than just wills and intestate succession. It also deals with laws on gratuitous wealth transfer (gifts) as well.
What is included in the Uniform Probate Code?
The Uniform Probate Code is a very large set of laws, separated into seven different sections or “articles.” Article I contains the general provisions required to provide an understanding of the substantive legal provisions included throughout the code, such as definitions and issues regarding jurisdiction. Article II addresses wills and intestate succession, which determines what happens to your estate if you die without a will. Article III of the Uniform Probate Code covers wills more comprehensively and includes the administration of estates. Article IV discusses the probate process for an estate that is located in a state other than the decedent’s state of residency. Article V explains the protection of the disabled and their property. Article VI deals with property transfers that are unrelated to probate. Article VII governs trust administration.
Why do we need a standardized set of rules?
Both federal and state governments have the ability to enact different laws, in our legal system, on the condition that those laws conform to the mandates of the U.S. Constitution. When the Uniform Probate Code was initially drafted, it was envisioned that all 50 states would adopt the requirements it set out. Yet, when the original version was first enacted in 1969, only 16 states adopted the Code in its entirety. California was not one of those states.
Currently, only one-third of the states have adopted the Uniform Probate code in some part. In those jurisdictions there are substantial variations. As such, some would argue that the Uniform Probate Code has not been successful in standardizing probate law and procedures.
Estate Planning Attorneys must be knowledgeable about probate law.
Estate Planning Attorneys must be very knowledgeable about the probate laws in their state. Any attorney who drafts a will or any other estate planning document, must be very familiar with his or her state’s probate code and the probate procedure. Otherwise, an attorney would not be equipped with the knowledge necessary to competently handle the estate planning needs of his or her clients.
Although, by law, you are not required to hire an attorney to draft a will or handle your estate planning, it is strongly suggested that you do. Estate planning is a complicated area of the law, which can be confusing and overwhelming if you are not familiar with the legal requirements. There can be severe legal consequences if estate planning instruments are not accurately drafted or executed. There can also be consequences if the legal procedures are not followed exactly. Unfortunately, most people do not think of consulting an estate planning attorney until someone has died. However, it is better to plan ahead and consult an experienced estate planning attorney early on.